Lethbridge becoming magnet for Bhutan refugees

By the end of the year 5,000 refugees from the small South Asian country of Bhutan will call Canada home, with hundreds of them settling in Lethbridge.

Dan Bahdur Gurung, a refugee from Bhutan, is one of hundreds from that country making Lethbridge home. Dan Bahdur Gurung, a refugee from Bhutan, is one of hundreds from that country making Lethbridge home. (CBC)

Dan Bahdur Gurung, his wife and two children landed in Canada seven months ago.

So far his daughter is the only one who understands English. The rest of the family is struggling to adjust.

Nearly 20 years ago the Gurungs were among 100,000 people forced from Bhutan into refugee camps in neighbouring Nepal.

Now those people are slowly being resettled around the world. Canada is one of seven countries that agreed to take refugees from the camps.

“It’s probably becoming one of the larger ethnic communities in Lethbridge,” said Sarah Amies, who works with Lethbridge Immigrant Services.

Over the last three years the agency has welcomed more than 500 Bhutanese refugees to the city.

For most of them, integration is a challenge. But it helps to be in a smaller centre, Amies said.

“It’s closer, it’s less difficult to get around, there’s English language available, settlement services,” she said.

According to Gurung, the biggest frustration is the language barrier.

He said he doesn’t get enough English lessons. But until he learns the language his future here is uncertain, he said.

Fellow refugee Purna Adhikr is trying to help the new arrivals. He already spoke English fluently — even holding a graduate degree in it — when he came to Canada three years ago.

“For many people it has been quite a challenge. Mainly the people with no education at all or little … they are still in the cultural shock and have not recovered yet,” he said.

Adhikr said he wishes there were more services available, especially English classes.

But the new arrivals are tending to stay in the community, according to Amies. “So that leads us to believe that something’s working.


CBC News

Posted: Apr 18, 2012 12:39 PM MT


New life in Canada has challenges for refugees

By Janis Warren – The Tri-City News


Binod Rai, 24, at home in Coquitlam, believes the Immigration Services Society of B.C. needs to help government-assisted refugees more after their one-year transition.

At 24, Binod Rai is like many young Canadians.

He has a full-time job, a cell phone, a computer, a strong desire to get a better education and a love for his family, with whom he lives.

But a year-and-a-half ago, Rai, his parents and siblings had nothing.

Along with thousands of other Bhutanese refugees, they were sheltered in a camp in Nepal for nearly two decades, a place that had no flushing toilets, no heat and no electricity. The camp, run by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, provide meals and schooling for the children, but little else.

In 2008, Rai’s family was approached and asked if they wanted to resettle. They chose Canada (“even though it’s so cold, not like the hot weather we were used to,” he said) because of its healthcare and educational systems and, some 18 months later, they were on a plane with two other large Bhutanese families from the camp flying to Dubai, then to London and, finally, to Vancouver.

The families spent two weeks at Welcome House in Vancouver to get oriented before moving to Cottonwood Avenue in Burquitlam, where many refugees — including an ever-growing Bhutanese community — live.

Binod's sister Madhu (left) with her friend Rupa

The transition hasn’t been easy, Rai said, though he feels he’s one of the luckier refugees. Unlike many of his countrymen, Rai can speak English, thereby making the integration into Canadian culture all the more smoother.

His two older sisters also have managed to get full-time work (the eldest, Madhu, 26, wants to eventually work in the healthcare sector) while his two younger brothers attend Mountain View elementary and Port Moody secondary; their parents take English as a Second Language classes and collect food at the food bank on a regular basis.

With Rai and his sisters’ wages and their parents’ government subsidies, the family is getting by financially, he said, and they now consider themselves fully Canadian. “We love it here,” Rai said, “and my parents are very happy.”

For the Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISS), the Rais are a success story.

Last year, according to recently released statistics, ISS helped 711 government-assisted refugees (GARs) resettle in the province, with the Tri-Cities being the top destination.

A total of 194 GARs made Coquitlam their home in 2011 — most of them from Bhutan, as part of a humanitarian effort by the federal government to place 5,000 Bhutanese GARs across the country between 2008 and 2013 (the U.S., Australia, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark and New Zealand also have Bhutanese resettlement programs).

Chris Friesen, ISS’ settlement services director, said more Bhutanese refugees are expected to arrive in the Tri-Cities this year. Coquitlam, in particular, was chosen as their settlement community for several reasons, including availability of affordable housing and pre-existing services such as adult ESL classes and settlement workers in schools. The area is also close to Surrey, where the majority of the Nepalese community lives. As well, the Tri-Cities share general geographic similarities with Nepal.

According to a report, penned in part by Friesen, released last September, called From One Nation, One People to Operation Swaagatem, the Bhutanese refugee resettlement is a history-making program for B.C. as it is the first time all government and school agencies were on board to prepare for their arrival.

And, so far, there are encouraging signs. “Although unemployment is high,” the authors write in their report, “early attachments to the labour market through paid or volunteer work are promising. While there is a long way to go before success can be claimed, the lower affordability challenges and higher employment being experienced are in stark contrast to earlier groups. Another positive development is the extent to which Bhutanese newcomers are utilizing formal services and programs.”

But Rai said after the one-year transition, the ISS services and programs dwindle for GARs. “We want more help,” he said from his three-bedroom apartment where the family of seven lives. “We have to do most things ourselves. My family is okay because we know some English but other families are not coping well with practical, basic things …. We have a sick child in our community and the father is having a difficult time.”

Still, Friesen said more programs are available now for GARs than a few years ago “and we’ve specifically targeted the refugee communities that have been settling in the Tri-Cities with the goal of providing a much more co-ordinated wrap-around in the first five years,” he said.

He acknowledged many Bhutanese refugees find daily life a challenge. “The refugee camp [in Nepal] provided them a sense of community where they knew where their food came from and that there was schooling. Everything was laid out for them and that sense of security and routine now has been uprooted so it is a tremendous transition and adjustment process.”

Note: Binod is a hard-working and an optimistic young man who deserves opportunities to advance in his new adopted country, Canada. He has a wonderful family.

Source: http://www.tricitynews.com/news/138599424.html

The second picture was shot by Raj

Killing Time tells the unknown story about the Bhutanese refugees

Killing Time

In the beginning of the 1990s, a sixth of the Bhutanese population fled their country due to cultural repression. Eighteen years later, Bhutan is known as a peaceful Buddhist Himalayan Kingdom – the promoter of Gross National Happiness. Meanwhile, the exiled Bhutanese are struggling for survival in overcrowded refugee camps in Eastern Nepal. Growing increasingly restless the young see only one solution for peace – war.

Seamlessly weaving the deceptive tropical beauty of the camps with gritty streetscapes from New York, KILLING TIME follows the exiled Bhutanese in the camps and a handful few who have made it to New York to lobby their cause. It shows a forgotten people’s struggle to survive in a world where you don’t only spend your life killing time waiting for a solution, but where time eventually kills you.


Source: http://vimeo.com/5794964

I love this documentary but it is hard to find one; it is neither in my local libraries nor I could find it on-line for a purchase.

Note: Winner of the Grand Prix at the Montreal Human Rights Film Festival, 2008

Bhutanese Nepalese Students adapt to life in Canada



Gokarna Baniya talks about the differences between life in Canada and life in a refugee camp in Nepal.


Think back to your first day of high school.

Remember the excitement and anxiety of this new environment, filled with unfamiliar faces and unknown routines.

Now imagine you only arrived in Canada a month before, after spending your entire life in a refugee camp. Suppose you’ve never had electricity or running water, let alone a laptop or IPhone. You can speak a little English, but your parents can’t, so you must shoulder new family responsibilities. When you look outside, you see sprawling concrete and speeding cars instead of the lush land that surrounded your small bamboo hut.

This is the reality for a group of 10 Bhutanese refugee students who started school last month at Port Moody Secondary. Despite the challenge of adapting to a drastically different culture, these young newcomers seem relaxed as they smile and joke in their new school’s office.

Fifteen-year-old Gokarna Baniya is taken aback by the change to his physical surroundings.

“The roads, there’s too much city here. In Nepal, you don’t find this type of place. You find mostly forest area. Here there is little, little forest. We have a big forest and we can get lost in it. The little forest, we find so much different,” he said.

“But the transportation we like. The buses and the train I like. When we were living in the camp, we used to have to go far away to find a road. The bus would come in the morning and the afternoon. It’s too long. And we used to have to wait for the bus for long periods, so it’s too difficult. And train, we didn’t find in Nepal. We would take bus. If it is too far, we would take a bus, and if it’s too short then we would walk by foot.”

Another surprise for Baniya was the sight of other students.

“The biggest change is the students are too different — their face, their skin. And their height is much too tall. We didn’t find the students like in Nepal,” he said with a smile.

“It’s very different. Many languages and the colour of them too are different — black, white, brown. In Nepal, all the people is brown. And the people from other countries. We didn’t think the people would live here, but many from India, China.”

Similarly, 17-year-old Sunita Rai marvelled at her new home. She laughed about how easy it is to get water in Canada.

In the refugee camps, families would line up to fill jugs with well water before walking long distances home with their heavy load.

To visit friends, they also had to travel great lengths — and heights. Rai said she would trek all day up mountains to reach her destination, stay for a quick meal and then walk for hours back home.

Since she came to Coquitlam this summer, Rai has been surprised by countless contrasts.

Bhutanese students at Port Moody Senior Secondary recently arrived from a refugee camps in Nepal meet with vice-principal Anthony Ciolfitto.

“It’s so cold. In Nepal, so hot. The house is biggest here. In Nepal, house small,” she said, laughing and gesturing with her hands. “[Food] so sweet. Too sweet.”

Like Rai and Baniya, most of the 80 Bhutanese refugees living in the Tri-Cities arrived this summer. In 2007, the federal government announced that Canada would resettle up to 5,000 Bhutanese refugees across the country over the next five years. The government provides assistance for one year and then the refugees must find a way to support themselves.

They come from a community of more than 100,000 refugees spread among seven camps in eastern Nepal, where they have lived since the early 1990s when they were expelled from Bhutan. As part of the Nepali-speaking Lhotshampa ethnic group, they were displaced when the Bhutanese government tried to impose a single national language and culture.

Chris Friesen, settlement services director for Immigration Services Society of B.C. (ISS), said more Bhutanese refugees are expected to arrive in the Tri-Cities.

“I think what makes the Bhutanese unique is the fact that they have been in a protracted refugee camp situation for close to 20 years. Most, if not all, of the children and youth were born in the refugee camp and had some exposure to schooling in the refugee camp,” Friesen said.

“But probably one of the most distinguishing features of this group is the fact that prior to the arrival of these folks, there was no pre-existing Bhutanese community in B.C. That in itself makes them unique in comparison to other refugee youth populations. They’re actually having to create their own community from the very beginning.”

Coquitlam was chosen as their settlement community for several reasons, including availability of affordable housing and pre-existing services such as adult ESL classes and settlement workers in schools.

The area is also close to Surrey, where the majority of the Nepalese community lives. As well, the Tri-Cities share general geographic similarities with Nepal.

“It was important from previous experience to settle them as a community in one location so that they themselves could provide each other with additional support,” Friesen said. “So in fact, it’s like the concept of a virtual community centre because of the location of the community.”

To help the youth adapt, ISS and School District 43 hosted an eight-week summer camp for immigrants and refugees between 10 and 18 years old. The Bhutanese students participated in this program, which provided them with academic, social and recreational skills.

ISS also hired a full-time Nepali-speaking settlement counsellor to work with the 38 Bhutanese families.

Bhutanese students at Port Moody Senior Secondary recently arrived from refugee camps in Nepal.

As well, the organization continues to recruit volunteers for its host program, which provides additional support networks for refugee families.

Through School District 43, settlement worker Stella Chen has also been working with the Bhutanese students and their families.

“I mainly work with parents. The school will take care of the kids, but the parents need health care and housing and other basic needs for their family. When they’re here as refugees for the first year, there’s a different kind of health insurance for them. Not all the clinics accept it, so it’s pretty hard to find them just basic walk-in clinics. That’s one challenge we’re having right now,” Chen said.

“When I do home visits, all of them need basic things — furniture, clothes for the winter. It’s pretty cold for them here, so they’re wearing jackets right now, I noticed. We need donations.

“For now, I think the basic home supplies are what they need. It’s a process for the whole settlement.

“First they need to have things for the home for everyday living. Then they can continue to learn English and to know more about Canadian culture.”

For Baniya and others in the Bhutanese community, learning English is a top priority.

“We understand a little bit. They speak too much fast now. If they speak English slowly, then we can understand,” Baniya said.

“Actually our parents do not speak English. … If our parents does not get a job due to their language, we worry that we will not get proper food.”

• To donate clothes or household items for the Bhutanese families, contact Chen at schen@ds43.bc.ca or 604-803-8128.

To volunteer with the ISS host program, contact Thea Fiddick at thea.fiddick@issbc.org or 604-684-7498.

© Copyright (c) Coquitlam Now

By Jennifer McFee, Coquitlam NOW October 13, 2010Source: http://www.thenownews.com/life/Students+adapt+life+Canada/3663544/story.html